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Parity and pain: World Cup favorites are out, a sign the global game is on the rise

AILSA CHANG, HOST:

The No. 1 and No. 2 ranked teams are both out of the World Cup. The U.S. lost in penalty kicks to Sweden yesterday, and Germany was eliminated last week. Games continue tomorrow to fill in the last two spots of the quarterfinals. And to talk more about what has happened and what is to come, we have Pardeep Cattry, who's been covering the Women's World Cup for CBS Sports and joins us now. Welcome.

PARDEEP CATTRY: Thank you so much for having me.

CHANG: Well, thank you for being here. OK. I'm so sad to be asking this question, but how would you best describe Team USA's World Cup elimination game performance?

CATTRY: Positive, but not enough.

CHANG: Go on.

CATTRY: So the big thing we were looking for with this particular game against Sweden was, could the U.S. improve upon the performances they had in those group stage games? And the answer was very much yes, right? But a lot of the problems that we saw in those earlier group stage games did still exist. And, you know, the one thing I think we all expect from them is that they're going to score goals, and that was ultimately what cost them a spot at this competition.

CHANG: Yeah. OK. What were, like, one or two key moments for you against Sweden?

CATTRY: I'm really looking at a point in the second half where it looked like they were so close to scoring. They had so many different shots. And I think that's where the theme of the game really settled in, where the goalkeeper was just going to do everything in her power to stop the U.S. team and make sure they didn't score that goal. And then I guess the other really, really big moment is that penalty shootout at the end where...

CHANG: Yeah. Megan Rapinoe's kick was off by like millimeters, right? Which seems so symbolic as to how this whole tournament ended up for the U.S.

CATTRY: Right? It's just - it ended up being a matter of millimeters for this team, which they didn't get everything right.

CHANG: Painful.

CATTRY: I know. If they just got that - what if that one little kick went their way? We would be having a very different conversation today, wouldn't we?

CHANG: Right. OK. Well, as we said, Germany, the No. 2 team, is also out. And what we've been saying all along through this tournament is that it could be really great news for the game as a whole if more teams play at a higher level. So let me ask you, does it feel like that is happening now from your perspective?

CATTRY: Without a doubt. I think this tournament will just be remembered for a very long time as a watershed moment for women's soccer. These teams that are lower ranked have been knocking on the door for a little while. Anybody who's been following this sport for some time knows that this felt like it was bound to happen. I think what the surprise is, is that it happened at the level that it did, right? I think we were expecting a very competitive knockout stage. We were expecting all the teams at the top to really chase after that World Cup title.

I think what we didn't expect was that we would find such incredible competition so early in the tournament, to the point that a team like Germany, which it felt like they had a relatively easy group, right? They had to play South Korea. They had to play Colombia. They had to play Morocco. These are all teams that they are supposed to beat - and they didn't beat them. Germany got out in the group stage for the first time in their history.

CHANG: Who are you going to be so excited to see take the field as you're looking ahead to the quarterfinals?

CATTRY: After today's results alone, Australia. They struggled a little bit at the beginning. They didn't have their star striker, Sam Kerr. She was nursing an injury. They figured out how to win without her. I wouldn't sleep on Japan. They've had a relatively easy road to the quarters, but they've got a good crop of young players. And then in terms of some dark horse contenders, Spain and France are right there. They're playing really well. So I really think it's anyone's game at this point.

CHANG: OK. That's even more exciting.

CATTRY: We've been surprised a lot of times this tournament. I wouldn't be surprised if there are a couple more left.

CHANG: I am excited to be surprised. Pardeep Cattry is reporting on the Women's World Cup for CBS Sports. Thank you so much.

CATTRY: Thanks for having me. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Justine Kenin
Justine Kenin is an editor on All Things Considered. She joined NPR in 1999 as an intern. Nothing makes her happier than getting a book in the right reader's hands – most especially her own.
Ailsa Chang is an award-winning journalist who hosts All Things Considered along with Ari Shapiro, Audie Cornish, and Mary Louise Kelly. She landed in public radio after practicing law for a few years.